Soulja Boy Is the Most Influential Rapper of His Generation
'Souljaboytellem.com' is ten years old, and it changed rap forever.
Illustration by Theresa Chromati
Ten years ago I illegally downloaded my first album. The last thing a middle school student wanted to do in 2007 was get a virus on the family computer, so I cautiously searched through Limewire looking for a link that seemed right (I felt like Matthew Broderick in WarGames) and when I did I quickly downloaded the album to my Samsung Juke letting out a sigh of relief. That album was Souljaboytellem.com, which released on October 2, 2007.
During this time, when Soulja Boy and his ankle length jean shorts wobbled into the mainstream rap stratosphere with the cultural phenomenon "Crank That (Soulja Boy)," the general response to the rapper's rise was thinking of him as a teenage one hit wonder that fell from the sky accompanied with a catchy dance. But they were wrong. Souljaboytellem.com was the culmination of unceasing hard work, resulting in the rapper becoming the very first viral rap star and introducing the world to a future era of teenage musicians where all they need is access to Fruity Loops and social media.
Let's make one thing clear, Souljaboytellem.com is not a masterpiece (and is far from it). The album—which got pretty much universally panned by critics—is filled with great ideas that run on much too long and random instances of incessant Soulja Boy screaming. But who cares? That's not really the point of this record's influence, and moreover, the chaos is what makes it beautiful. Souljaboytellem.com is the vision of a 17-year-old rapper with almost complete control of the writing, producing, sequencing, and direction. Soulja wasn't some polished figurehead packaged by an established 30-year-old producer and tossed into the limelight. Instead, he worked with distributor Mr. Collipark—someone who had a clear understanding of Soulja Boy's vision—and effectively used the free flowing nature of social media and YouTube to set a blueprint for how to be a teenage rap star on the internet.
Prior to Soulja Boy, becoming a teenage star without label backing or a major co-sign was nearly impossible. Teenagers didn't (and still don't, because they're teenagers) have the reach or the funds to equip themselves with the proper tools to make their music at high enough quality where people would even think to give it a chance. Soulja Boy transformed the process of making music. When his hit song "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" began making the rounds, most listeners probably couldn't tell that Soulja had made the beat in minutes on a computer program called Fruity Loops (or simply FL Studio). FL Studio was initially viewed as a program solely used by entry level producers because of its efficiency and accessibility (its high percentage of illegal downloads made it available to almost anyone), which caused Soulja Boy to face criticism for not making music that was viewed to be legitimate. It didn't matter, though, as he used the packs and drum kits FL Studio had to offer to create a song good enough to ring off in nearly every club around the country. Soulja Boy birthed an era where independent music without industry backing became easier than ever to create through FL Studio, even becoming a mainstay tool for many of 2017's super producers like Boi-1da and Metro Boomin.
To say "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" was a phenomenon is doing it a disservice. For me personally, I can remember my middle school prom, an event where dancing was strongly discouraged out of fear that the gym floor would get too intimate to whatever Pussycat Dolls song was a thing at the time. However, when "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" dropped, all rules went out the window and the gym teachers chaperoning the dance took the lead and instructed kids step-by-step through the Superman dance. It's important to remember that this wasn't 2017 where rap is an insanely popular and inescapable genre of music—it was 2007 in the midst of Fall Out Boy's reign. Yet here were a couple of middle aged gym teachers who swore by Led Zeppelin memorizing a black teenage rapper's dance he created in his bedroom. That was Soulja Boy's power.
Souljaboytellem.com is a time capsule of mid-2000s trends from the snap music Soulja Boy picked up during his time in Atlanta to Soulja Boy's ode to his T-Mobile Sidekick on "Sidekick." It's also an album that thrives because of how grounded it is. Soulja has the same problems as any other teenager, constantly feeling hated on by the older generation of parents and teachers who just don't get him. On the bass heavy "Report Card," which contains a smart interpolation of Rich Boy's "Throw Some Ds," the focus of the song is Soulja Boy's irrational yet self justified angst toward his teacher for failing him. The youthful feeling Soulja was able to encapsulate on the track has to do with much more than just the topic, it's the carefree nature in which Soulja Boy goes about on the track. About two and a half minutes in, Soulja Boy goes through about a minute of uncontrollable rage where he starts to scream things like, "I take out my report card," and eventually ends with simply yelling "aaaah" in a fit. Small moments like this one on Souljaboytellem.com would be removed by most rational executive producers, but it's what helped Soulja Boy build a connection. Again on the gibberish filled "Yahhh!," Soulja incoherently yells "Yahh trick yahhhh...uhblablaublabla." It's absurd, but displays Soulja Boy's unmatched creative control for the record.
Late 2007 was the perfect time for Souljaboytellem.com. The popular rappers of the moment were a 30-year-old Kanye West and an approaching 40 JAY-Z. Soulja was considerably younger than the major stars and appeared with a simplicity which made tracks like "Bapes" (which came from the iconic YouTube video) so popular. Soulja Boy's style and the way he carried himself was also a huge part of his appeal where someone like Kanye would wear Polos that were fitted Soulja's sloppily dangled down to his knees. Everything about Soulja was over the top and if there was a trend he would take it a step further and push it to the edge.
Soulja's sole goal was for the internet to hit their dougies or two-step to his music and his knack for creating irresistibly bouncy tracks made it possible. On "Donk," which has aged flawlessly, you get to experience the full range of Soulja's abilities, from his impressive production skills (the clap has been sampled countlessly) to creating infectious hooks ("She got a donk, she got a donk"). Soulja on the album also smartly tightroped the line of creating music with a hint of maturity while also maintaining his youthful innocence. On the abrasive "Let Me Get Em" which is filled to the brim with gunshots starts off with a playful public service announcement about how the song is not actually about guns and "Shootout" is in fact a dance. Soulja's production on the album incorporates a variety of sounds from the electric guitar sample on "Snap and Roll" to the bass that sounds like a car accident on "Pass It to Arab." All of the sounds throughout the album come together and create a beautiful mess like a great party that's on its last legs before it uncontrollably gets shot up and, in the midst of an era where the internet was respectfully fawning over Blu and Lupe Fiasco, it was refreshing. Souljaboytellem.com opened the door for less traditional styles of rap to live on the internet, a door that Lil B would tear down completely a year and a half later.
Much like Lil B there is currently a whole new generation of rapper's who proudly view Soulja Boy as an instrumental influence. Tay-K in his interview from prison stated that not only is Soulja Boy his favorite rapper, but he hopes one day to get signed by Soulja (and he was only seven years old when Souljaboytellem.com dropped). Lil Yachty (prior to his beef with Soulja over an Instagram model) would frequently Tweet about how much Soulja meant to him as an artist, going as far as saying that he wanted to be a part of Pretty Boy Millionaires 2 the sequel to Lil B and Soulja's collaborative mixtape.
Over the years Soulja Boy's legacy has fluctuated as he has gone in and out of relevancy and his penchant for starting strange internet rap beefs has caused some to sour on him, but that shouldn't be the case. Souljaboytellem.com has become the inspiration for a whole new generation of rapper's as proof that you can make it even if nobody is backing you at first. It's an album about navigating a world where everyone takes shit so seriously, but all you want to do is dance and show up to the school homecoming with the most expensive outfit on. Soulja came into rap open to learning about new styles and when he found a movement on the internet he enjoyed he would pay homage by implementing it into his own music. Now let me go make sure my AIM away message from ten years ago isn't still the chorus to "Soulja Girl."
Alphonse Pierre is a Staten Island-based writer, and, no, he's not affiliated with the Wu-Tang Clan. Follow him on Twitter.